One of the reasons why Willow the Vampire is set in rural (fictional) Stinkforthshire-upon-Avon is that I grew up in a village and am very much aware of the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in a small community.
As a vampire Willow is an outsider – as a newcomer to the village she is also an outsider. Making friends under such circumstances isn’t easy and when you’re from a “dysfunctional” family background like Willow, it’s even more difficult to fit in.
As my lovely WP friend Michelle Barber (proud proprietor of the Loony Literature Laboratory, surrogate mother to Mildred the Cat) so astutely recognised, Willow’s first novel is a journey of self-discovery. Aged 11, the vampire child is trying to find her place in the world.
So what underlying theme will novel number two have? Well, my obsession lies with the dark underbelly of small communities and how the creatures of the night that stalk the village streets are not necessarily those fanged ones or ghostly apparitions the book title might suggest.
Although Würzburg, the setting for my second novel, was already a city during the witch trials that took place between 1626 to 1631, when hundreds of innocent men, women and children were tortured and murdered by an insane religious nutter-cum-prince-bishop regime, it was nevertheless a fairly small community by today’s standards and serves as a perfect example, how small, insular or remote communities can turn on each other for no apparent or sane reason.
When I go to visit Würzburg next year, I hope to join a museum’s tour that deals with this issue of persecution. As part of the guided tour to the historical sights connected with the witch hunt, visitors are shown the Kiliansdom (Würzburg Cathedral) and the Neumünster (the New Minster) as well as the Town Hall, where the gruesome fate of nearly 1,000 people was decided. The guided tour, according to the blurb on their website, serves “to illustrate the religious and secular causes of the witch-hunts of the 17th century”.
Just because picturesque Stinkforthshire, a village with 5,000 souls (minus a few vampires, who are there in body but not in “soul”), is on the tourist trail, has pretty flower baskets hanging from porches and a historic fountain gracing the market place, the village is not an idyll, where no crimes are committed and no unhappy thoughts are coursing through the minds of neighbours.
Some crimes are never brought to justice – they are not even regarded as crimes in the eyes of the law. How’s this for an example?
While growing up in my very own affluent Stinkforthshire village in Northern Germany, we had a cleaning woman going round the houses of well-to-do citizens, whose hypocritical mentality saw no problem in spending her Sundays in church praying and lording it (morally speaking) over the rest of the community.
During the week, however, she would spend the time for which she got paid on snooping through her employers’ cupboards and drawers to see, what “scandals” she could rake up. Naturally, whatever she discovered, or in some cases thought she had unearthed, she would gossip about with the clear intention of causing harm.
She was the mother of a school chum of mine – which made it very awkward at times to stay friends with a girl, whose mother continuously caused a lot of grief to people. In today’s society libel is taken far more seriously than it was then and people are prepared to call in the lawyers, but back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when this village menace had her peak, this was not the case.
The twist at the end of this tale is, as you might have expected, that this gossiping banshee had an affair with somebody. When her family found out, they were devastated and for a very long time, my school chum did not speak to her mother or wanted to have anything to do with her. At long last, the evil spell was broken and from that time onwards, the gossiping menace had to hold her tongue about other people’s affairs.
Crimes like libel or slander often go unreported in small communities – as for making people’s life a misery by intrusive spying on one’s neighbours and criticising their every move or busy-bodies constantly turning up at their neighbours’ doorstep under some pretext to gain access into their home for the purpose of practically “running” the lives of widows/widowers or divorcees…those are in many ways also crimes, but they are not recognised by the law.
I know of one woman who was so terrorised by a couple of busy-body neighbours that she eventually fled to her son’s home at the other end of Germany, just to get some respite for a few weeks at a time.
The good end to that story was that this much-put-upon divorced, single lady discovered the joys of going abroad (on her own) and she broke free of the village-mafia trying to run her life the way they thought she should be living it. She gained in confidence on her own accord and experienced a very different life to the one her neighbours had mapped out for her.
If anyone’s interested in visiting Würzburg in the near future (perhaps to hear guest speaker Dr Dimitra Fimi at the university explain all things Hobbit, Tolkien and Fantasy Fiction), here are the details for the museum’s tour:
Duration: Approx. 2 hours, Reservations: Congress · Tourismus · Wirtschaft, Gästeführervermittlung Am Congress Centrum, Turmgasse 11, D – 97070 Würzburg, Phone +49 (0) 9 31 / 37 26 50, Fax +49(0) 9 31 / 37 36 52, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.wuerzburg.de/fuehrungen
As for Willow, in the course of the second novel she will discover that EVIL can lurk behind many different masks, often disguised as something quite “harmless” and “socially acceptable”.
(source of animation: heathersanimations.com, source of photographs Wikipedia)